Whiplash Treatment & Therapy

What is a whiplash injury?

Whiplash is a neck injury when your head is thrown backwards (hyperextension) at a high speed and then thrown or bounced forward (hyperflexion) in a quick manner, or vice versa. These typically happen when a passenger is hit from the front or the back of the car; or when hit on the head from a contact sports injury.  Ligaments, muscles and tendons are injured on a microscopic level in whiplash accidents, and in severe cases nerves and neck joints can be injured as well.

Physical Therapy whiplash treatment can be very helpful for recovery and pain control from whiplash accidents, and there are also several other healthcare professionals who can help tremendously in dealing with the trauma of a whiplash injury.

Signs and symptoms of whiplash injuryNeck Pain from Whiplash

  • Neck pain and inflammation
  • Headaches
  • Reduced neck motion
  • Weakened neck muscles
  • Pain and weakness in the shoulders or arms
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

First step after a car accident: See a physician.

Although most whiplash injuries have mild to moderate symptoms and may take anywhere from a day to a week to manifest, some severe cases warrant immediate physician attention. It is always best safe than sorry, and proper diagnostics is necessary to first rule out life-threatening injuries such as fractures, dislocations, or internal bleeding.  

  • Your physician will likely perform an X-ray of your cervical spine to rule out dangerous fractures or dislocations. An open-mouth X-ray is best to look at the bones from the back as well as from the back of the neck (called an open-mouth dens X-Ray).
  • Your physician may order a soft neck collar for support of your neck. This may help temporarily to alleviate some pain and difficulty in holding your head up. The collar should only be used temporarily, though, as research has shown that wearing it for too long will cause muscles to weaken and atrophy, further prolonging the instability and pain in your neck.
  • If you experience any of the following symptoms, it is important to contact your physician right away: any loss of consciousness, profound loss of sensation in arms, legs or torso.
  • An orthopedist, neurologist or specialist may conduct further tests if they feel your neck is not stable. These may come in the form of CT or MRI scans. They will likely be checking for spinal cord damage, herniated disks or torn ligaments.

In some cases, a physician’s referral may be necessary for certain insurance plans so it is good to take this first step of clearance from a physician so initiating physical therapy for whiplash treatment will be trouble-free.  

How to Control Pain and Inflammation at home

Pain regulation is very often in healing – controlling for pain will allow your muscles to relax, circulation to improve, and help your sleep longer and better for healing. Consult with your physician your best route of oral painkillers. Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) or stronger prescriptions like oxycodone may be prescribed.

Though pain control is necessary in the first stages of healing, it is important to remember that these medications may be hard on your stomach, kidneys and liver; and in some cases may be addictive, or try not to extend continual use of them for longer than 2 weeks.

In the first 2 weeks after the accident, cold therapy can be used for effective pain relief and inflammation control. A cold pack can be applied directly to the head in the case of the headache. It cold pack can also be applied directly to the neck, though some patients cannot tolerate this for very long. Typical cold treatments should be kept for 15 min stretches, several times a day as needed for pain. Make sure a cloth barrier separates the cold pack from the skin to prevent frostbite – we like to use pillow cases at our clinic.

Physical Therapy for Whiplash

It is important to start physical therapy as soon as you can after the accident, or when your physician deems you ready for this type of whiplash treatment. Patients who begin gentle movement and exercise in the form of proper stretches and exercises have better prognoses than patients who choose to wait to schedule. Don’t worry – your physical therapist will still be able to look for warning signs of major instability in case some steps mentioned above at the physician’s office were skipped. Your physical therapist will assess range of motion, strength, pain level, soft tissue tightness and nerve function and formulate a plan of care that involves tailored stretches and stability exercises to promote healing.

Following is a general plan of care of what a physical therapist might do for you if you’ve experienced a whiplash injury:

    • Manual therapy and gentle mobilization of muscles and joints: Injured muscles and tendons quickly tighten and spasm so gentle manual therapy can help reduce this. Additionally any muscle tears on a microscopic level can benefit from improved stimulation and circulation brought by soft tissue mobilization. Gentle joint mobilizations can help loosen locked-up joints that cause pain and stiffness.
    • Stretching and/or movement exercises: Stretching exercises can help with gaining back flexibility in your neck and prevents cervical joints from getting too stiff. Stretches should be kept easy and tolerable, with gentle pulls towards end range of motion. It is important to not induce pain during these stretches and movements, because this means that you are irritating the injured muscle, joints and ligaments.  
    • Stability and Strengthening exercises: When the neck pain is alleviated a little, strengthening exercises can help regain stability in the neck so keeping the head up for work, and daily living can be become easier and pain-free. Strengthening treatments typically start with isometric exercises – which involve pushing the neck or head against a gentle resistance that does not move. It is vital to start deep neck flexor strengthening exercises – the deep neck flexor muscles are considered the “abdominals” of the cervical spine, and offers the most helpful stability to the neck.  
    • Establishment of a Home Exercise Program: Because most patients do not have the luxury of seeing their physical therapist everyday, establishment of a set of safe, home exercises for patients to do on their own is necessary to keep the momentum of healing going between visits.


  • Resistive Exercises for Shoulders & Arms: Strengthening the arms, shoulders and upper back is necessary and healthy for posture. It is likely that your posture has suffered ever since the injury and this is due to a combination of pain and deconditioning of muscles. Once your neck pain is healing to a good level, resistive exercise for the upper extremities and the upper back would allow you to return to work, daily activities, and sports healthily and prevent recurrence of neck symptoms.


  • Your physical therapist may choose to use additional methods of whiplash treatment to achieve pain control. In the clinic he/she may choose to use TENS machines or traction units to help modulate the pain. TENS units provide a vibratory sensation to the painful and tight muscles that compete with pain signals to the brain, thereby reducing painful feelings non-narcotically. Cervical traction units provide a gentle upwards pulling on your neck that also helps with blood flow and stretch in muscle and inside joints.

Adjunct Healthcare

Consider acupuncture. Acupuncture involves sticking thin needles to specific energy channel points and meridian part of the body that could potentially aid in stimulating healing. Acupuncture is not able to heal patients from whiplash injuries on its own, and should be considered as a secondary adjunct option to physical therapy. For this type of whiplash treatment, consult with your PT for trusted acupuncturists near you.

Consider seeing a concussion therapist, or a mental health counselor. If your whiplash injury is the result of a car accident, there are often far-reaching psychological effects of the accident. Patients may feel panicky and trepid to sit behind the wheel. Talk therapy can help patients in overcoming anxiety and fear. Additionally, if confusion and memory loss is one of your symptoms – which is very likely in head injuries, a concussion therapist may help in regaining this function.

Consider other lifestyle changes:  1)Avoid carrying heavy bags (>5-8lbs) that place excessive pressure and strain on neck and shoulder muscles.  2) Practice better posture at work and while doing daily activities. Working on posture allows your to continually strengthen stability exercises of the neck, and helps maintain good habits for even after your injury. 3) Smoking impairs blood oxygenation and blood flow. Abstaining from smoking while healing will ensure your body receives the best nutrients during this interim.

If you are experiencing symptoms of whiplash then please contact us immediately and come visit one of our Portland locations today!

Follow Me @

Alice Holland, DPT

Doctor of Physical Therapy, Director at Stride Strong Physical Therapy
Alice earned her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from USC in 2007, and have practiced Physical Therapy for 12+ years in the Outpatient Orthopedic Setting. Certified in ASTYM, she also has been a featured expert on Physical Therapy on numerous publications including health.com, healthline.com and yahoo.com.
Follow Me @

Latest posts by Alice Holland, DPT

Ana Lucia Pinheiro
Ana Lucia Pinheiro
02:18 20 Oct 17
This place is amazing. I am so happy I found Stride Strong PT. Alice pays attention to all of the details, she watches every single move I make, my posture, and the way I move through every exercise. She is very knowledgeable, she was able to pin-point the problems in my back and she has a plan to help me become stronger where I need. The place is brand new, huge, and has nice exercise machines. I tried a few physical therapists in the area, and Alice is TOP, second to none, and I feel super lucky to have found her. Highly recommended!!
Prashant Gupta
Prashant Gupta
01:00 02 Oct 17
Dr. Alice at Stride Strong is one of the best PTs I have come across. Her attention to detail and assessment of the root cause of injury is very good. She is excellent in evaluating pain patterns and giving a training schedule for a rehab & injury prevention, she is extremely knowledgeable. I would strongly recommend Stride Strong to anyone looking for PT. It is easily the best PT clinics in Hillsboro area.
steven zollin
steven zollin
20:57 14 Sep 17
Highly recommend Stride Strong Physical Therapy , Alice showed me proper form to assist in recovery with my shoulder and is very knowledgeable.
Lindsay Nied
Lindsay Nied
23:33 18 Dec 17
I recently had a massage from Joel at the Hillsboro location. He was able to work on an ongoing issue I have been experiencing with my back after a sports injury, and I left feeling so much better. The whole facility looked incredible, and everyone I met was friendly and welcoming. I would highly recommend Stride Strong for massage and physical therapy.
JoAnn Hatch
JoAnn Hatch
08:20 08 Nov 17
Dr. Sydney is by far the absolute best physical therapist I've worked with ever! Her expertise in designing highly effective and efficient exercise plans is beyond compare. I feel so much better as my strength and function increases. She comes up with the most brilliant and fun ideas to motivate. To my delight she even offered to come to my home in Vancouver and work with me on my own equipment including a Stott Pilates Reformer. Talk about going above and beyond! Couldn't be more grateful I found her!!!
Clare Perry
Clare Perry
21:58 23 Oct 17
A full hour of a dedicated PT professional's time without aides or techs? That's just one of the things that sets this clinic apart from others. Competent, professional, and amiable, Dr. Alice Holland and her team are the best in the area. While I generally see them at the Cedar Mill Clinic on Cornell, situational constraints took me to their new Hillsboro clinic today near Intel Jones Farm. Beautifully furnished, spacious with easy parking and access. May you continue to grow and thrive, Stride Strong!
Joyce Heideman
Joyce Heideman
08:28 11 May 18
After foot surgery I went to Stride Strong for therapy with Alice Holland. She helped me reach my full mobility again by continuously introducing new and challenging exercises. The entire staff is friendly and professional. They are always on time and do not rush. I look forward to doing 1/2 marathons again and riding my recumbent trike. Thank you Stride Strong for your care and high level of expertise.
Suad Daher
Suad Daher
20:48 28 Feb 18
The best physical therapy ever. Both JP and Sydney were a great PT, they helped me understand how I can help treat my injury and how it may have caused. And also they informed about so many techniques that I can use to help my injuries or any other injuries I get in the near future. They are both friendly and nice to talk too, and verbunformative. And there is also Krystal, she is the best front desk receptionist ever, she is nice and friendly and can easily manage your schedule based on the patients comfort if they want to schedule or not. She can help and she replies fast to any patients email. And she is easy to talk to. Thank you Stride Strong Physical Therapy.
Amanda O'Rourke
Amanda O'Rourke
21:38 15 Jun 18
In just a month I've seen great progress! I've been incorporating the exercises taught to me into my daily workout routine. Im very happy with my continued results.
Albert Szal
Albert Szal
23:43 10 Jun 18
Mary Szal here: I've had three sessions with Brittany at the Hillsboro location. I can say that she has been the most effective and instructive physical therapist I've ever experienced. Her personality, energy, knowledge and results are top notch.
Osa Phiangdae
Osa Phiangdae
00:05 22 Mar 18
Awesome place for PT. Hillsboro location has plenty of parking and very spacious. I had the pleasure to work mostly with Dr. Alice Holland and JP. I came in with a shoulder injury and thank goodness they understood what I was going through. They are the best of what they do, I would recommend Stride Strong to anyone who needs PT.
See All Reviews

© Copyright 2019 STRIDE STRONG